Although closely associated with Cross Training, kettlebell workouts can still be challenging for traditional lifters, and still deliver results as far as muscular gains and fat loss.
A Brief History Lesson
The kettlebell is a cast iron weight that is used mainly for ballistic training. The original invention of the kettlebell has never been verified but a 143 kg (314.6 pounds) kettlebell at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia in Athens is believed to have been made during the times of the Ancient Greeks and used for demonstrations of strength.
In the 18th century Russians added the word “girya” (meaning kettlebell) to their dictionary, and was defined as a tool used to measure grains or crops that were sold by weight.
Strength was considered honorable to the people of those times so they were also used as a way to display strength by swinging them or lifting them overhead. Once the health benefits were discovered, they evolved into a training tool that was used by both the Russian military and Russian athletes for training.
Why Kettlebells are Different
With dumbbells or a barbell, the weight is distributed evenly on both sides and your hands go in the middle of the object when you lift.
A kettlebell’s center of mass is below the handle which can facilitate swinging and ballistic movements. The different shape changes the force used to lift it which is less stable than a bar or dumbbells. This means the arms and core are being targeted differently and the result will be improved strength and better grip.
Like traditional free weights, lifting kettlebells can target the entire body or isolate a specific muscle group. Although you can focus on low reps and heavy weight, kettlebells have been mostly used to increase muscular endurance via lower weight and higher repetitions or as a cardiovascular program like a circuit or aerobics class. You can also use them to help increase flexibility, mobility, and range of motion.
Beginner Kettlebell Workout
This four week program will help you implement kettlebells into your own training program. Week 1 will be an introduction to some of the most popular kettlebell movements, while Week 2 will involve separating upper body, lower body, and core training. Week 3 will incorporate more advanced exercises, and Week 4 will have circuits for you to perform intense workouts.
Week 1 – Kettlebell Basic Training
This will be a four day week that will include four different movements each day. You should begin with a very light weight until you master the exercises and develop the confidence to challenge yourself with heavier weights. You can perform these workouts after your weight training or make them your cardio.
Basic Russian Kettlebell Swing: The basic swing will help improve the posterior chain. The key here is hinging at the hips which will help with stability through the frontal plane.
Start by holding the kettlebell just above the knee at arm's length with both hands. Your feet should be shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly like you’re lowering yourself down to grab a bar for a deadlift.
While hinging your hips, swing the kettlebell up with both hands until it reaches chest level. Lower it back down and let the momentum take the weight down past the starting position so the kettlebell is past your knees and through your legs.
Immediately repeat for the recommended reps. The exercise should resemble a pendulum swinging.
Goblet Squat: Hold the kettlebell at chest level with a hand on each side of the kettlebell handle. This is called taking the kettlebell “by the horns”.
Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder width apart. Keep the weight close to your chest throughout the movement. Slowly lower yourself down into a squatted position until your hips are below your knees.
Once you reach that point, use force from your legs to return to the starting position. Repeat for the recommended number of reps.
One Arm Push Press: Lift the kettlebell to shoulder height. Hold it so the handle is in your palm and the weight in behind the hand. This is called “racking”.
Lower yourself down halfway through a squat position while keeping your torso straight. Push through your heels to a standing position and press the kettlebell overhead. Don’t lockout your elbows.
Return the weight to the starting position and repeat. Remember to do the same for both arms.
Russian Twist: Stand with feet shoulder width apart and hold the handle of a kettlebell with both hands by taking it by the horns. Keep your elbows bent & into your sides.
Using force from your core and keeping your hips locked into place, turn yourself and the weight to your right as far as you can. Immediately return to the starting position and turn yourself and the weight to your left.
Return to the starting position. This is one rep. Repeat for the recommended reps.
|Day 1||Perform each movement for 2 sets of 15 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets after your normal workout.|
|Day 2||Perform each movement for 3 sets of 15 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets after your normal workout. Take a day off from kettlebells after this workout.|
|Day 3||Perform each movement for 3 sets of 20 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets after your normal workout.|
|Day 4||Perform each exercise for 30 seconds in giant set fashion. Perform three giant sets with 30 seconds rest between each giant set. This is your last kettlebell workout for the week.|
Week 2 – Upper/Lower/Core Training
We will add new movements this week and we’ll also do a different workout for upper body and one for lower body and core. Two workouts will be in traditional fashion and two will be in giant set fashion. Perform the workouts after weight training.
Kettlebell Snatch: Start with a kettlebell between your feet. Bend your knees, push your butt back, and pick up the kettlebell.
Look straight and swing the weight back between your legs. Drive through your hips and knees and swing the kettlebell upward. As it reaches your shoulder level, rotate your hand and punch straight up, lifting the weight overhead.
Return to the starting position and repeat. Perform this movement with both arms.
Kettlebell Row: Start with the kettlebell at your feet. Slightly bend your knees and push your butt out to get in the starting position.
With one arm, grab the weight and pull it in to your stomach while retracting your shoulder blades and bending your elbow.
Keep the back straight. Return to the starting position and repeat. Perform the movement with both arms.
Lunge: Take the kettlebell by the horns and hold it at chest level with elbows bent. While keeping the weight in this position, perform a lunge like you normally would with dumbbells or a barbell.
Once your knee is an inch or so above the floor, step back to the starting position. Repeat for the recommended reps and do the same reps for both legs.
Kettlebell Windmill: Push press a kettlebell overhead with one arm while racking it in your hand. While keeping it pressed overhead, kick out your butt in the direction of the arm you’re hold the weight with.
If you’re holding the weight with your right arm, then kick your butt out to the right. Keep the non-working arm behind your back.
Lower yourself as far as you can before returning to the standing position. Repeat for the recommended number of reps. Perform the same exercise with the weight in the other arm as well for the same number of reps.
|Day 1||Upper Body: Basic Russian Swing, Push Press, Snatch, One Arm Row – each exercise for 3 sets of 20 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.|
|Day 2||Lower Body and Core: Goblet Squat, Lunge, Russian Twist, Windmill - each exercise for 3 sets of 20 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets. Take a day off from kettlebell training.|
|Day 3||Upper Body Circuit: Basic Russian Swing, Push Press, Snatch, One Arm Row – three giant sets of each exercise for 45 seconds with 30 seconds rest between giant sets.|
|Day 4||Lower Body Circuit: Goblet Squat, Lunge, Russian Twist, Windmill - three giant sets of each exercise for 45 seconds with 30 seconds rest between giant sets.|
Week 3 – Advanced Kettlebell Exercises
By now you should feel more comfortable working with kettlebells and have a better understanding of how your muscles are working while using them. Now we’ll incorporate more advanced exercises to challenge you. Perform the workouts after your weight training.
Turkish Get-up a.k.a. TGU: From the Fetal position roll onto your back and hold the bell into the straight arm position. Bend the leg on the same side as the bell and place the opposite arm out at 45 degrees.
Crush the handle as you sit up along the line of your arm, first to elbow and then to hand. Keep the kettlebell arm down and in it socket and the opposite shoulder away from the ear.
Push from the heel of the bent leg and drive your hips in the air and into full hip extension. There should be a straight line from bell to bottom hand.
Sweep the straight leg back and through to a half kneeling position. Taking the hand off the floor, straighten your body and take the eyes off the bell and look ahead. Drive from the front heel and stand. Reverse the movement and repeat.
Russian Swing and Catch: You will perform this movement as you would the regular Russian swing but instead of using one arm at a time before switching, you’ll switch hands once the bell reaches chest level.
If you lift with the right hand, then once it reaches your chest, catch it with your left hand, release the right hand, and repeat the movement with your left hand.
Kettlebell Pushup with Row: You will perform these like you would traditional pushups but your hands will be on the handles of the kettlebells instead of the floor.
This makes the workout more challenging because you can lower yourself deeper than you could with your hands on the floor and you’ll have more difficulty keeping yourself stable.
After you do each pushup, you’ll perform a one arm row pulling the kettlebell in to your side while keeping the other weight on the floor. Repeat with both arms before going down for another pushup.
Half Kneeling Halo: Kneel on the floor with one foot in front of your body, holding a kettlebell in both hands at your chest.
Engage your core as you bring the weight to your right shoulder, then behind your head, to your left shoulder and back to the starting position.
Keep the rest of your body as still as you can while you perform another circle in the opposite direction. That’s one rep. Repeat.
|Day 1||Each movement for three sets of 10 reps. Rest 30 seconds between sets.|
|Day 2||Each movement for three sets of 20 reps. Rest 30 seconds between sets. Take a day off from kettlebell training.|
|Day 3||Each movement for three giant sets of 10 reps each with 30 seconds rest between giant sets.|
|Day 4||Each movement for three giant sets of 20 reps each with 30 seconds rest between giant sets.|
Week 4 – Advanced Kettlebell Circuits
This week we put all the exercises together into a cardio circuit. Start with the basic exercises and continue with each movement as you learned them.
You will slowly add more time training and decrease rest between circuits. You can make these workouts your cardio for the week.
|Day 1||Each exercise performed consecutively for 30 seconds followed by a 60 second rest period. Repeat for three circuits.|
|Day 2||Each exercise performed consecutively for 45 seconds followed by a 60 second rest period. Repeat for three circuits.|
|Day 3||Each exercise performed consecutively for 60 seconds followed by a 45 second rest period. Repeat for three circuits.|
|Day 4||Each exercise performed consecutively for 60 seconds followed by a 30 second rest period. Repeat for three circuits.|